Anna

There were a surprising number of women in Jesus’ life, but he would have had no personal memory of Anna, though it’s possible that she figured in his “Tell me about when I was a baby” stories.

When a Jewish baby was born there were certain traditions to follow. After the home birth the mother was given 40 days to recover physically and to concentrate on her baby. Then, if they lived close enough to Jerusalem and the first-born baby was a boy, the young family went off to the Temple to carry out the customary religious rites. It was there that Anna and Jesus met each other.

Old-Womans-Hand-Baby

Luke’s Gospel tells it like this:
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came in, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

Over the years she had become a fixture in the Jerusalem Temple, watching families grow, blessing the babies of former babies, a model of prayer, to be admired but not copied. She might have been old and skinny, (well you would be if part of your religious practice had been fasting), but she was fit enough; scooting around the temple precincts 24/7, greeting people, encouraging them, praying for them. From a twenty first century viewpoint she might come across as eccentric or pious, a religious crank who doesn’t seem to have a life outside of religious practices. Then, as now, lots of us have trouble accepting those who are not only different, but old!

There was nothing much wrong with her eyesight and hearing, because she not only saw from a distance her friend Simeon focusing in on one particular baby, but she heard his prophetic words about a sword piercing the heart of the young mother. She knew that bringing up children could be heartbreaking, and words like that weren’t something any new mum would like to hear.

Long before John the Baptizer pointed out Jesus as ‘the one who is to come’ Anna gazed at this six week old baby boy and felt, rather than saw, that this baby would be a light that would flood the darkness of a world groping towards God. Knowing that she had lived to see this day filled her with hope and spilled over into joy, a joy as she shared this with Mary, that young mother, and for the rest of her life with everyone she met. In this baby named Jesus she had glimpsed the face of God.

As I get older it saddens me, and angers me too, that I’ve spent all my life in a church that doesn’t permit me to proclaim the good news of the Gospel whenever Mass is celebrated, that women , the bearers of life are not permitted welcome others into God’s life at Baptism or hand them back into God’s loving care when they die. Because we are women!

Anna sits on the edge of Old Testament as it edges into the New. An elderly woman recognising Jesus as the light of the world, to be followed a generation later by a young woman, Mary of Magdala, proclaiming his resurrection. Now, as then, could God be telling the world something?
Judith Lynch

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Warrandyte winter

It was summer when we moved to Warrandyte, where the houses are tucked into leafy green folds, lean gum trees climb up and down the hills, and the possibility of bushfire lurks behind every hot day.

During the will we / won’t we buy stage we had decided that the dirt road was charming, the sloping driveway manageable and the absence of a shed for all those absolutely necessary boy’s toys, could be easily remedied. The windows, whole walls of them, were amazing, bringing new meaning to our previous experience of light and airy.

A first winter in any location is a time for the new residents and a house to really get to know one another. That summer, followed by a balmy autumn, was our honeymoon period, so the real knowing came with the first cold snap, closely followed by a power bill that owed most of its total to ducted heating. Now we saw the sense of those heavy roman blinds on all that lovely exposed glass. Reluctantly we shut out the night and kept the heat in.

Now eight years later and it’s winter again. The mornings are cold, mist drifts through the green of the eucalypts and evenings close in before 6 o’clock.

Misty morning

It’s then we light the fire. It doesn’t do much to increase the inside temperature but it looks wonderful. Something about it slows me down, centres me. Back in the summer the smell of smoke in the air could set me panicking. That’s the thing about fire – it can comfort and it can consume.

The house is flat roofed and the cathedral ceilings are timber lined, so we hear even the gentlest of rain. Most nights thick layers of cloud block out the starlight, with not even a streetlight to send fingers into the deep shadow.

People talk about a dark night of the soul and it can mean many different things. John of the Cross, a Carmelite who lived in the 1600s, said that an experience he saw as a dark night is caused by the presence of God that is so bright that it results in darkness. When I read things like this I think of winter nights in our unlit valley and feel that I am out of my depth. But doesn’t any God talk take us out of our depth?

It is said that the landscape is the face of God, turned to us and inviting us in. Our Australian landscape invites us to recognise God in the seasonal manifestations of the Creator’s complexity. The prophet Isaiah was aware of this when he said, “God will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.” More God-talk!

The one vehicle dirt road is not so charming these days – gently pot-holed and slippery in winter, dusty the rest of the year. The driveway seems a little steeper than it was eight years ago, or maybe that’s my knees talking, and the boy’s toys are in the shed.

And sometimes in the morning mist I catch a glimpse of who God is. I see, but I don’t see. Things like the biting chill of winter, the gentle patter or occasional clatter of rain on the roof, the wood smoke scented evening air, remind me of a Presence as ephemeral as it is real. And just when I begin to think that I might understand the mystery of the who or what of God, it’s gone.

Judith Scully  (judith@judithscully.com.au)